Why 2020 Was the Year of Social Justice 

A mural of George Floyd in New York City
Sal Bono

Looking back, 2020 was a year filled with activism and action, challenges and triumphs, movements and monumental defeat that divided some and brought others together from all walks of life with renewed hopes of change.

Looking back, 2020 was a year filled with activism and action, challenges and triumphs, movements and monumental defeats. It was a year that divided some and brought others from all walks of life together with a renewed sense of purpose. 

The year started with the outbreak of the coronavirus, a global pandemic that has, to date, claimed the lives of 1.77 million globally. More than 333,000 of the dead have died in the U.S., which is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War, according to an Associated Press report. It is a global health crisis that has been compared to the 1918 Spanish flu and is an epidemic that has strained the country's healthcare system and tested the limits of American healthcare workers, day after day.

But the country's healthcare landscape was not the only systems in place in the U.S. that were called into question in the wake of the pandemic.

The pandemic has affected the health, jobs, and incomes of millions of Americans. Unemployment was at an all-time high and food insecurity was on top of mind. Being forced to remain apart put the spotlight on the need for community and the ability to work together, especially where issues such as climate change, gun violence, immigration, race and gender equality, education, and LGBTQ rights were concerned. 

Gary Hardie, Jr., policy and advocacy director at the Social Justice Learning Institute, told Inside Edition Digital that “the most significant social justice issues of 2020 are some of the same issues that have been at the center of social justice efforts for decades." The COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, he said, exacerbated those issues and made them all the more pressing.

Read below for more on the social justice issues that this year were the focus for many. 

The Discussion Around Healthcare Reform Was Reignited During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the many ways in which the U.S. falls short where the health of its people is concerned, according to advocates.  And when drilled down on, the issue appears to be disproportionately affecting minorities. 

"Our communities have some of the worst air, water, and soil quality. With the lack of healthcare access, our communities left many residents with untreated underlying conditions that made them more susceptible to the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. That is why Black and brown folks have been disproportionately represented in the COVID-19 death toll," Hardie said. 

The U.S. spends more on healthcare for individuals than any other country, with more than 30% of direct medical costs faced by U.S. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans can be tied to health inequities, according to the American Public Health Association. The APHA reports that clinicians have shown to have a more negative attitude toward people of color, and unconscious racial bias is tied to a lower quality of care. 

The APHA explains that factors such as education, employment, socioeconomic status, can affect an individual’s access to health care. Generation Public Health, is one of their movements dedicated to creating conditions where all populations can be healthy.

The 2020 Election Had Many Asking, Who Does and Should Have the Right to Vote?

Two-thirds of the eligible population eligible to vote in America voted in the 2020 election, more than in any other election in 120 years, the Washington Post reported

A major shift took place compared to previous elections, with more Americans casting their ballots before the polls opened on Election Day.

More millennials and senior citizens voted than ever before. 

The National Association of Social Workers was one organization that encouraged those who can vote to exercise their right. The organization hosted webinars on engaging millennials to vote and understand the barriers low-income individuals, college students, seniors and minorities may face when trying to cast their vote. Some say the pandemic helped highlight the importance of ensuring one's voice is heard. 

Extreme Weather and Disasters That Upended Americans' Lives Have Left Many Concerned Over Climate Change 

Wildfires, droughts, flooding and storms ravaged the nation this year. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), six in 10 Americans are now either “alarmed" or “concerned” about climate change, a number that has more than doubled in the past five years. And more than 500 global companies have committed to set climate goals based on the best available science. 

Not only are more Americans recognizing the significance of climate change, but they are also expecting leaders to do something about it. About two-thirds, or 65% of Americans say the federal government is not doing enough to address climate change, according to the Pew Research Center. And nearly 4,000 people in leadership positions across the country are now coming together as part of the We Are Still In movement to address the climate crisis. 

The Reality of Racial Injustice Was Spotlighted During the Pandemic, Advocates Say

The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor brought on protests and marches that advocates say shined a light on systemic racism, racial inequality and the need for police reform. Their deaths were part of what triggered some of the most historic social justice movements the U.S. has ever seen, according to experts. "About 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks," The New York Times reported in July, citing four recently conducted polls. 

This year saw the Black Lives Matter movement more largely accepted by Americans and others throughout the world. People all over the country banded together to advocate for change and question the brutality many said were taking place throughout the country. The year also saw just how much resistance to the movement exists, as hate crimes and instances of white supremacy made headlines. 

“We have been at the forefront of efforts to reform policing, including working to defund LA school police to fund viable alternatives themed on restorative justice practices that prevent students from being thrust into the school-to-prison pipeline," said Hardie.

The SJLI's community education, outreach and leadership development involves the entire community, but the organization's focus is on young boys and men of color.

We have become experts and walking while we chew gum, so to speak, because we have had these very timely efforts in place, all while fighting for justice with policing and public safety,” he said. “All of these issues we work on are related to achieving a more beloved community. At SJLI, we do this work in concert with those who have the most to gain and the most to lose -- our community."

In a Year Full of Losses, 2020 Saw the Deaths of Several Social Justice Pillars, Which in Part Roused Advocates to Lead 

This year, the world lost some notable social justice heroes. In July Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis died at the age of 80. Two months later, in September, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87, and in November, Lucille Bridges, the mother of Civil Rights activist Ruby Bridges, died at the age of 86. 

Their deaths served as a reminder that leadership within progressive movements is important to continue the momentum of change. With only weeks to go until the 2020 Presidential Election, Democrats raised more than $71 million in the hours after Ginsburg’s death.

"The work done by Ginsburg and Lewis hasn’t ended, as long as we carry it forward—though moving ahead without them does expose an anguishing thought: If only they’d lived a few more months!" Time film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote in September. "They left before they could see this alarming four-year chapter to its end, whatever that might be. Now we wait to see how their life’s work will unfold in the next one.